In the early hours of the morning of the 19th November 2009 my dad let out his final breath. By this point his breathing had been laboured and pain-filled for almost a day, his body groaning as a result of the final blow of its enemy, Multiple Sclerosis. I leaned over and kissed his forehead one last time, drawing his eye-lids shut as I stepped back. He lay in the arms of his beloved and now heart-broken wife. I moved to comfort my mother before going to make necessary and difficult phone calls. Five years on and it seems like just last night.
What if God…?
I wonder what I might have felt that night, and many nights afterwards, if the sovereign God had not claimed my affections. What would that night have looked like if my God was not the Uncreated, Creator and Sustainer of all things?
I might have interpreted the event through a fatalistic ideology – if X, then Y always happens. If so, I’d conclude that God was powerless to intervene because mankind has rebelled against its Creator and now we live in a broken world, riddled by disease and illness, so God was powerless to prevent my dad from getting Multiple Sclerosis. He was powerless to prevent him deteriorating at the pace in which he did and so it was merely an inevitability that his body would eventually fail him – the simple cause-and-effect of broken human biology operating outside the control of God.
Or perhaps, without a God of providence, I might have put it down to chance. In this case, I would think that it just so happened that my dad was my dad; it just so happened that he suffered this illness; it just so happened that he died on this particular day at this particular time; it just so happened that I found myself in this family at this moment.
But neither fatalism nor fluke offered an explanation for my dad’s passing and all of the emotions that came with it. I wanted to thank God for providing me with my father; for providing my mum with her husband; for providing my sisters with their dad. But why thank a god who is powerless to intervene? Is he even the one to thank, if everything is just one big fluke? Indeed if everything is one big fluke then why do I feel the need to thank anyone or offer any praise for my dad’s life – it’s all meaningless anyway, isn’t it?
God’s Purpose and Power
Thankfully, however, things pointed towards purpose rather than accident; to intent rather than fluke; to intervention after intervention rather than mere cause-and-effect.
Not long before that night, perhaps just months before, a transformation had taken place in my life. I had gone from seeking pleasure and popularity (indeed from finding pleasure in popularity) to no longer being controlled by these desires. I had become a Christian. God had revealed to me the dazzling wonder of his grace in the person of Jesus Christ against the jet-black backdrop of my now mournful past. I was no longer seeking the empty pleasures characteristic of 21st century adolescence, but was in hot pursuit of knowing more and more of my Saviour.
In quite possibly the most painful time of my mum’s life, she didn’t need a self-indulgent adolescent around the house. She needed someone who could help point her to her God. She needed someone who could care for her and who could serve her.
In a dark and confusing time for two young teenage girls, the last thing they needed was an older brother who was leading the way in empty living. They needed someone who could lead the way in how to grieve with hope.
All of this pointed to a purposeful, powerful God.
This God of purpose and power revealed himself also to be a God of great care. I saw him caring for my mum and my sisters. I saw him care for us as a family in intimately kind ways. One family friend thought that we wouldn’t like to drive around in a wheelchair-accessible car any longer and so gave us her car. Many people gave us much needed financial support. Church members brought round meals for us well into the following month. All of these acts of kindness pointed towards a God of tremendous care.
God, our owner
What gives God the right to rule – to move people to generosity and to manoeuvre circumstances? As Creator of everything, he owns everything and everyone. This came home to me through seeing that my dad’s life was not his own (Job 1:21); through seeing that my mum’s life was not her own (she would not have chosen this course of events). The Creator is Owner.
But what kind of Owner is he? God is a wise and good ruler. In the midst of dark and confusing times, this is comforting. Because God is wise, I could trust him to deal wisely with me. I could trust, even though at the time things were unclear and painful, that he was working out his wise purposes. He understands his creation better than anyone else does. Who better to have govern my steps and circumstances?
And God is not only a wise Sovereign, but a benevolent Sovereign also. His creation is good (Gen. 1) because it comes from him, and so I could trust him to be able to work all things together for my good and for my family’s good (Rom. 8:28). Everything he does is good.
God, our creator
Believing anything but the biblical doctrine of creation only brings a sense of hopelessness. My dad’s death would have been pointless. The grief that I was experiencing would have been merely an inconvenience. But the truth that God creates and sustains by his will (Rev. 4:11) offers very real hope that my dad had not died in vain; the grief I was experiencing had purpose. God willed that my dad would die and that is a hope-inspiring truth.
The fact that God sustains his creation by his will also gave me strength to carry on. If God did not sustain by his will, then by implication I am self-existent – it’s all down to me. That’s not good news when you feel incredibly frail and life seems so obviously fragile. But the truth is that since God is the purposeful sustainer, then I am invincible until God says otherwise. Grief would not overwhelm me. The seemingly immense responsibility ahead of supporting my younger sisters and mum would not crush me. God would sustain; God did sustain.
Therefore, all the glory belongs to God. The world might look at this situation and think that it speaks of my strength or resolve. But it doesn’t. It speaks of God’s strength and resolve. To him belongs all the praise as it is all down to him that we, his creatures, are sustained.
Providence and the biblical doctrine of creation is good news. It inspires hope, brings comfort, gives meaning. It means that I can look back on an emotional event and not hate God. It means there is nothing in God to hate and I have no right to do anything but praise him. It means that even though I don’t understand everything that has happened, I can trust that his purposes and intentions are good and wise and so rest in the fact that I don’t need to understand everything.
You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.